Kings ‘Steal’ One From Clippers, Gain More Late Game Experience

SACRAMENTO, CALIFORNIA - MARCH 03: Domantas Sabonis #10 of the Sacramento Kings is fouled in the final seconds of their game against the LA Clippers at Golden 1 Center on March 03, 2023 in Sacramento, California. Sabonis made both free throws to take the lead and win the game. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement. (Photo by Ezra Shaw/Getty Images)

One week removed from the gripping double-overtime hair-raiser, the Kings got the best of the Clippers once more, holding on in a nail-biter to win their fifth straight game 128-127.

Sade proclaimed “it’s never as good as the first time,” and with a more modest score as well as with Kawhi Leonard and plenty others out for Los Angeles, that was certainly the case. But at the same time, Friday’s game packed the excitement as the contest went down to the final second with a Russell Westbrook blunder and some clutch free throws. 

Extending the Sac-era franchise record, De’Aaron Fox recorded his eight straight game with 30 or more points, scoring 33 on 12 of 22 shooting with 7 rebounds and 7 assists. Domantas Sabonis not only hit the game-winning free throws, he also reached his 50th double-double of the season with 23 points, 10 rebounds, and 7 assists. Tying Fox with 8 free throw attempts, Harrison Barnes scored 20 with 7 rebounds. Kevin Huerter battled through some early fouls to score 18, and Keegan Murray hit some big three’s to put up 14 points. Additionally, Trey Lyles scored 10 with 8 boards and Malik Monk came up with 8 assists off the bench, which lead the team.

The Clippers also got a collection of productive performances. All-star Paul George scored 28 with 7 boards and 8 assists, Russell Westbrook had 27 with 10 assists, and Eric Gordon contributed 21 points in a spot start. Mason Plumlee added 13 and 8, and off the bench, Robert Covington scored 15.

Sacramento benefitted from a collection of different impact performers that lifted them to the Friday night victory, but throughout the evening, there were spotty efforts on both ends that allowed the Clippers a 30-plus point period in every quarter and which allowed LA a late 17-4 run that spoiled a comfortable lead. 

“We found a way to steal that game,” Mike Brown admitted postgame, saying that at this point in the year, a win is a in, but concluded that it “was not one of (the team’s) better performances.”

Nevertheless, with the win, the Kings take the season series over Ty Lue’s team, 3-1. They also handed the Clippers their fifth loss in a row as they continue their second half slide. Furthermore, with Memphis’ loss to Denver, Sac is now one game behind the second place Grizzlies. 

Game summary (takeaways below)

The Clippers looked like the sharper team to start, dominating on the boards, scoring inside, and drawing lots of fouls. Kevin Huerter racked up 3 personals in about three and a half minutes. Early on, the Kings looked stagnant on offense, but Keegan Murray’s outside shooting and Malik Monk’s attack helped initiate a 12-4 run that gained the lead. Better defense helped Sacramento have the lead going into the second, but the scoring was high at 35-32 after one.

Out of the gate in the second period, the scoring was not as voluminous with the Kings missing some good looks and opportunities and with Bones Hyland trying force things. But Huerter came out and redeemed himself with conviction on offense that got him 11 second quarter points. LA continued getting inside with the help of Westbrook and the scoring picked up on both sides as halftime approached. Sacramento lead 68-63.

Westbrook helped the Clippers go on a 10-2 run early in the third, but a little later, Fox lead a 7-0 run on both ends of the floor. Out of a timeout, LA generated a 15-9 run—and it helped that they were turning the tables in the free throw battle (13 trips in the quarter to Sac’s 3)—but some remnants of good defense helped the Kings regain the lead as they remained up by 5 points going into the fourth.

The aggression of Fox and the Kings forced 5 early Clippers fouls, and with a heavy accumulation of stops, Sacramento carved out a 12-2 run to go up by 13 points. But with the help of Paul George and the blitzing of Fox, it did not take long for them to wind down the deficit, eventually gaining a lead on a big three-pointer with under a minute left that capped off a 17-4 run. 

Monk—in for Murray—hooked Domas up with a quick score to go back up by one point, but George got to the rim. Fox missed his answer mid-range, but upon trying to pass the ball forward past Sac’s press, the ball went straight through Westbrook’s hands for a turnover. With fifteen ticks left, Fox missed again, but Sabonis was fouled on the rebound, going to the line for two. There, he sunk both to give his team a 1-point lead, and George could not hit a three at the end with Fox on him.

Kings again “found a way,” gain more experience

Mike Brown was sure to credit the Clippers with staying in the game and making a late push. From not ever giving in to blitzing De’Aaron Fox down the stretch—which Brown noted they hadn’t ever seen before—Tyrone Lue’s team put in an admirable effort.

But at the final buzzer, it proved to be yet another example of the Kings finding a way.

Throughout the year, this team has produced performances like this late in a contest to win it, and the head coach said that his team’s ability to do that is the reason Sacramento is 5-0 since the all-star break.

“We’re just kind of finding a way,” he detailed when asked about the main reason behind the winning streak. “I don’t know if you can point to one single thing. Obviously, offensively we’ve been playing pretty good basketball, but we’ve been playing pretty good basketball offensively the whole year. And so what it (boils) down to is just kind of us finding a way — finding a way to get a stop here, get a stop there, get a little bit lucky here, a little bit lucky there, and then maybe hit a timely shot or something like that.”

Featured in a lot of discourse surrounding the Kings this week, Brenden Nunes has highlighted the fact that, broken down by quarter, Sacramento’s defensive rating:

Friday night was without question another example of simply finding a way. The defense may not have stepped up late to win this one, but the statistics illustrates the overall proclivity for this team to flash late-game heroics. 

The next postgame question came from Sean Cunningham, who asked if the experience in these close games is beneficial. Brown affirmed it.

“To get one to two-possession game experience — and finding ways to get the win — is invaluable because come playoff time, those games are usually a dog fight,” Brown responded. “And you’ve got to find ways to win down the stretch, you’ve got to get a stop here, you got to get a stop there, you gotta execute offensively — or at least know where the ball should go during certain times of certain games, especially the last 20 to 35 seconds of a game — and so you like going through these scenarios, you like, obviously, teaching it and/or learning from a win, and at the end of the day, I do truly believe it’s going to benefit us long term.”

The Kings are impressive and the biggest risk to their hold on the three spot is a jolt up to the second spot, but they are a team with very little playoff experience. The current group has not been in that environment together. But Mike Brown has, and it’s hard to disagree with his assessment of the usefulness of being exposed to these tight, late game scenarios in the regular season, and more importantly, winning them.

Mike Brown: Fox and Sabonis belong in the All-NBA discussion

Despite a choppy game, the presences of De’Aaron Fox and Domantas Sabonis allowed the Kings to “steal” this game as Mike Brown said.

From Fox’s ability to shift the momentum at different points in the night to Sabonis’ stability and game-winning free throws, it’s beyond obvious why these guys are all-stars, and to a point where it’s clear that they deserve far more credit.

The one leading that campaign for recognition is their head coach.

“Now — shoot — they’re doing things that warrant them to be mentioned for All-NBA,” coach Brown said of his two all-stars after the game.

De’Aaron Fox’s eight straight 30-plus point games puts him among some big names.

Meanwhile, the idea that Domantas Sabonis should at the very least be included in the MVP discussion has not lost much, if any steam as the season has worn on. 

In other words, these guys are better than mere all-stars. They are two of the best players in the league on one of the most consistently successful teams this season. 

It’d be interesting if they’d have gotten superstar recognition already had they been on a different team.

Nobody honored with DPOG chain

When asked who won the Defensive Player of the Game chain honors, Mike Brown curtly said that nobody did.

Mike Brown often notes the importance of getting your work done and doing it early on defense. It’s vital for playing on a string over on that end, and it requires a pair of peeled eyes and a willing body. All season, the Kings have shown they’re willing, but the sharpness of their execution often varies.

In terms of help and rotations, there were some good moments—if you listened to the television broadcast, they noted them early and often—but there were a lot of docile efforts on that end. It had little to do with failing to do the requisite work, but everything to do with the timeliness and execution of it.

Here, Monk gets beat, but Murray’s help is late and there was weak evidently communication s Taerence Davis failed to step in (probably thinking Sabonis would). 

An example of simply being late came as Robert Covington got by Sabonis on a mismatch and Mitchell was late to stepping in front of the restricted area. Late in the game, Monk was also late moving over as the low man with Paul George getting down hill before Monk could get his body in motion.

As noted, there were also moments of no help (which, again, could be attributed to lack of communication). Here, Fox is getting backed up by Westbrook, and Sabonis’ help contest from the mid-to-high paint area came so late that he must have thought Huerter was going to provide it. And once more, Fox was guarding Westbrook, but it appeared Murray and Huerter did not communicate as to who was going to provide help as Westbrook got to the rim.

Terence Davis has had some excellent defensive stretches, but he was not very great on Friday, hence why he played just 7 minutes. In the span of a minute, he was beat by Eric Gordon twice. The first time, Davis slipped, but the second time, he let the veteran right on through where he rolled into Sabonis to draw a foul.

Other lapses created a need to scramble, which the Kings have gotten stronger at, but when a defense is forced into the scramble so often, it can become unsustainable with everyone running around.

Speaking of lapses, here, the Kings let Batum be a free cutter for an easy bucket.

Sacramento just wasn’t in their most vibrant defensive form, and it will be interesting to see what they do on that end in the second of a back-to-back.

Lyles and Monk lead the bench

The bench has been so good for the Kings since the all-star break. All year, really, success has often been contingent on the bench’s ability to produce in some capacity.

Trey Lyles’ impact ceiling may not be the highest, but among all the bench players—and considering both ends of the floor—it’s probably been the steadiest. Malik Monk can change games, take a lead role, and be a big time player, but his consistency doing that has had its up’s and down’s (though, he’s been going off recently with an intent to close the season strong). And Davion Mitchell’s defense is the definition of consistency, but his offense can at times fail to materialize. Lyles’ impact has just been so solid from game to game all season.

He added 10 points on 3 of 5 from the field, including 2 of 4 from deep. More importantly, Lyles was an active member of the defense with 2 deflections in about 22 minutes, plus he contributed 8 rebounds. He was able to provide useful help defense, secure stops or second opportunities with rebounds, and make the right play with the ball in his hands. Aside from fouling Paul George on a three-point attempt, Lyles had a great game.

But even with 4 points, Malik Monk again showed why he is able to make the biggest impacts when he’s got things working the right way. At the end of the day, Monk lead the team with 8 assists. His ability late in the first to connect with Sabonis was a big reason Sac had a lead after one quarter.

Moreover, with the Clippers gunning for Fox as the point guard’s time to shine arose late in the game, it was imperative that another playmaker step up. Mike Brown confirmed that he brought Monk in for Keegan Murray with 80 seconds remaining due to that very reason after Brenden Nunes asked.

It proved monumental. After Westbrook went 1 for 2 at the line, LA forced a turnover, which lead to Paul George’s go-ahead three with 52 seconds left. On the very next possession for the Kings—with so much attention on Fox—Monk drove by Nic Batum and into the paint and flipped it to Sabonis as his drive was met by help defense, which resulted in a layup for the big man.

It was exactly what the Kings needed.

Along with Lyles and Monk, Davion Mitchell made a difference at times on defense and had a pair on nice score in the second quarter. Also, Chimezie Metu contributed a little defense as well as 5 rebounds, though he did whiff a few easy looks.

Huerter’s offensive resiliency

After hitting the game’s first field goal from beyond the arc, Kevin Huerter quickly picked up three fouls. It was the last thing a player wants to do; on top of picking up two, he was targeted by the opponent and committed a third, taking him out of the game in spite of the trust that kept him in there.

A little over an entire quarter’s worth of play passed before he returned to the floor, but when he did, he scored 11 of his 18 points in that second period. He hit three’s, mid-rangers, and sunk his free throws (after being fouled on a three-point attempt).

He remained resilient and found a way to make an offensive impact.

Luckily, his three was falling (3 of 4 on the night), but had it not been falling, he likely would have found other ways to score. At various points this season, and sometimes for prolonged stretches, Huerter’s three-point shooting would be down in the dumps. However, he maintained his ability to score between 12 and 16 points per game, often utilizing the two-man game with Domas and/or the defensive attention paid to his outside shooting to get scores on the inside.

Overall, Huerter is a resilient offensive player, always locating ways in which to score in a fairly efficient manner. It fits in alongside and contributes to the overall team resiliency that was noted above. Huerter, like his team, has a knack for finding a way.

Going forward

After another important victory as it pertains to conference rankings comes the opportunity for another.

Sacramento will host Minnesota Saturday night on a quick turnaround. The Timberwolves will also be playing the second of a back-to-back after beating the Lakers in Los Angeles on Friday. 

Since the Kings and T-Wolves played a pair in late January, Minnesota has gone 6-6. No different from earlier in the year, Sac won’t see Karl-Anthony Towns, though they may when these two teams play later this month.

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Dan Smith
9 months ago

Great recap like usual! It was really fortunate Westbrook let that pass go through his hands on the Clippers final possession. And great clutch performance by Domas to step up and make those freebies. We’re getting really good at these close games, 5-0 now in 1 point game this season! The team was great overall at out rebounding LA and going 26-26 at the line set a franchise record. One or two misses there and it could’ve been a different outcome. It’s funny Brown decided not to hand out a DPOG award, that’ll teach em! lol Pretty impressed by the bench too, although I’d really like to see Malik be a little more consistent. He’s been pretty quiet since that huge game against the Clippers a week ago. Here’s to hoping we can take down the Wolves tonight, we need all the wins we can get during this home stretch. Should be able to but we’ll see! Let’s go Sacto!